The New York Times took on the National Football League last week with an in-depth piece outlining the organisation’s “flawed” understanding of the physical dangers associated with playing football, especially when it comes to their research on concussion. The newspaper even went so far as to compare the NFL to the tobacco industry, which has notoriously used “questionable science” in the past to downplay the hazards of smoking.
The New York Times argues that the NFL’s concussion committee is guilty of similar practices, standing by incomplete and invalid research which only serves to further endanger its players. “One of the rules of science is that you need to have impeccable data collection procedures,” says neuropsychologist Bill Barr, who is quoted in the article as a critic of the committee’s methods. “You’re not doing science here; you are putting forth some idea that you already have.”
The NFL has responded with its own 2,500 word letter requesting that the New York Times retract the story, calling the claims made in the article “false and defamatory.” A lawyer for the paper then replied in turn, in what may well be the shadiest letter known to man, stating that the New York Times only retracts proven factual errors. In other words; where’s the lie? “The Times has a policy of correcting factual errors as promptly as possible,” writes NYT lawyer David E. McCraw. “I have reviewed your letter with our editors and reporters, and nowhere does your letter identify any factual error that we have made in the ties between the NFL and the tobacco industry.” That’s as close to a mic drop as you’re going to get in a legal letter. Get the popcorn and giant foam finger at the ready — it looks like neither side is backing down from this fight.